SALT LAKE CITY — April 22 is Earth Day, an annual event that encourages support for environmental protection, first celebrated in 1970 and now observed in more than 193 countries.
This year’s Earth Day comes amid growing scientific findings that climate change is happening, and widespread global concern about the phenomenon. The past five years were, collectively, the warmest years in the modern record, according to NASA and NOAA, and there is a 99.9999 percent chance humans are the cause of climate change, according to a 2019 study.
But a recent poll finds that while the majority of Americans believe they are contributing to global warming, most are not greatly concerned about it.
The Gallup poll, conducted in March, found that 66% of Americans said they believed global warming is caused by humans and 59% said we’re already seeing the effects.
Despite that, only 45% believe global warming poses a serious threat in their lifetime and just 44% said they are very worried about it — although concern has been higher in 2016 through 2018 than in previous polls.
The poll classifies Americans into three main groups based on on their climate change-related beliefs. From Gallup:
- "Concerned Believers" are highly worried about global warming, think it will pose a serious threat in their lifetime, believe it's the result of human activity and think news reports about it are accurate or underestimate the problem.
- "Cool Skeptics" hold the opposing views on the same four questions: They worry little or not at all about global warming, do not think it will pose a serious threat in their lifetime, think it's attributable to natural environmental changes and think the news exaggerates the problem.
- Those in the "Mixed Middle" hold a combination of views. For instance, some believe global warming is caused by humans but aren't worried about it, while others express the reverse perspective — saying warming is a natural phenomenon, but they are highly worried about it.
The poll found that for the first time since 2001, a majority of Americans fall into the category of Concerned Believers, at 51%. About 20% are Cool Skeptics and 30% are in the Mixed Middle, down from 37% in 2015.
Concerned Believers were primarily women, according to Gallup, as well as people who are under age 30, have a college education, and/or are people of color.
Political party and ideology was a significant factor in the results. Most Democrats (77%) are classified as Concerned Believers, while half of Republicans (52%) are Cool Skeptics.
“While Americans as a whole are concerned about global warming, the partisan differences between Democrats and Republicans are stark,” the poll stated. “Most Democrats take the issue seriously and are troubled by it. Republicans remain skeptical and largely unconcerned.”
In fact, partisanship is a stronger factor in people’s beliefs about climate change than their level of knowledge and understanding about science, according to a recent survey by Pew Research Center.
In 2016, 93% of Democrats with a high level of science knowledge said climate change is mostly caused by human activity, compared to 49% of Democrats with low science knowledge.
“By contrast, Republicans with a high level of science knowledge were no more likely than those with a low level of knowledge to say climate change is mostly due to human activity,” the report stated.
Other recent Pew surveys found that a majority of Americans see at least some effect of climate change where they live, and that compared with a decade ago, more Americans today say protecting the environment and dealing with global climate change should be top priorities for the president and Congress.